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Published: 22 April 2021   •   Communiques

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met on 22 April 2021. All members were present except Phillip Glyde who was represented by Acting Chief Executive, Andrew Reynolds. The meeting was chaired by Sir Angus Houston.

The Authority welcomed New South Wales Water Minister Melinda Pavey’s announcement this morning that the Lake Menindee inlet is now open, allowing water onto Lake Menindee – the biggest lake in the Menindee system. WaterNSW estimates between 650 and 850 gigalitres in total will flow into the lakes from the Darling River. These are the most significant inflows in five years, rejuvenating community confidence and prompting active debate about management of the Lakes.

We know this water is critical for the wellbeing of First Nations people and, after the recent drought, local Menindee communities are rightly nervous and concerned about their water security. We also know other communities in the southern system are keenly watching this unfold, because for entitlement holders on the Murray this water matters to them too.

Once there are 640 gigalitres of water in the Menindee Lakes – expected in coming weeks – the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement requires the Authority to ensure this water is shared between New South Wales and Victoria. Once levels in the lakes drop back to 480 gigalitres, the New South Wales Government resumes sole management responsibility of the water in the Menindee Lakes.

The MDBA will communicate more frequently with clear information about what happens when the water sharing arrangements between the states kick in at Menindee and how decisions will be made on behalf of the state governments.

Agricultural Commissioner and Deputy Chair for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Mr Mick Keogh briefed members on the ACCC’s Murray–Darling Basin water markets inquiry report, which the Treasurer released on 26 March 2021. Mr Keogh noted the findings of the report and the recommendations for enhancing markets for tradeable water rights, including their operations, transparency, regulation, competitiveness and efficiency.

The Authority noted that while the government is considering the report and yet to respond, the MDBA is working with other agencies to address issues around data capture and transparency. This will contribute to addressing some of the recommendations.

Assessing the remaining NSW water resource plans (WRPs) for accreditation continues to be a key priority for the MDBA. The MDBA assesses all WRPs in a consistent way ensuring they meet the 55 requirements set out in the Basin Plan. The MDBA reports regularly on progress. All 13 plans for South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory are accredited and in operation.

Of the 20 submitted New South Wales WRPs, the MDBA has now completed its assessment of six and has undertaken a preliminary assessment of the other 14. At today’s meeting members considered the completed assessment of the Gwydir (surface water) and the Gwydir Alluvium (groundwater) water resource plans. The MDBA is awaiting advice from the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations and Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations on the Aboriginal values and uses components of each of the other 14 WRPs.

The previously submitted Namoi (both surface water and ground water) WRPs and the Lachlan WRP have been withdrawn by the New South Wales Government for revision to make them consistent with the Basin Plan following advice from the MDBA. As noted previously, this is not an unusual step – all other Basin States have had inconsistencies identified in their initial WRPs and changes have been required before they could be recommended to the federal water minister for accreditation. Given the similarities across all WRPs in New South Wales, it is likely that other WRPs will also be impacted.

The Authority had an initial discussion on the Authority’s intention to issue its mid-year Report Card on progress and implementation of the Basin Plan. This will be released after 30 June 2021.

Sir Angus Houston (Chair)

Professor Stuart Bunn

Ms Joanna Hewitt AO

Ms Susan Madden

Mr Rene Woods

Mr Andrew Reynolds (Acting Chief Executive)

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